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E-Newsletter May 2014

Free Shredding Event at Coulee Bank

Join us on Friday, May 9th, at our FREE shredding event. Everyone is invited and welcome to stop out to shred their confidential materials.

Properly disposing of sensitive and confidential information will help declutter your home and office, as well as keep your identity safe from thieves. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country, and most crimes are conducted through simple means of collecting papers thrown in the trash. Shredding information at the source minimizes the risk of confidential information getting into the wrong hands. With the help of Shred Right and Confidential Records, two well-established and comprehensive shredding service companies in the Midwest, we are helping to eliminate this risk.

The Shredding Event will be held in the parking lot at:

  • Our St. Paul Branch (742 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, MN) from 1:00pm – 3:00pm
  • Our Onalaska Branch (590 Theater Road, Onalaska, WI) from 11:00 – 12:30pm
  • Our La Crosse Branch (1516 Losey Blvd S., La Crosse, WI) from 1:00pm – 3:00pm

The types of accepted materials vary greatly from checks, tax documents, credit/debit/gift cards, tickets, packaging, and much more. There’s no need to spend time removing stables or paper clips; these materials are all accepted for shredding. Bring as many documents as you’d like; there are no weight or quantity limitations on the materials that you would like to have shredded. 

Rent or Buy? 5 Important Questions When Choosing Your First Home

Moving into your own place can be exciting and frightening at the same time. The American Bankers Association suggests considering the following questions when choosing your own home.

1. How much money do you have saved up?
Start with an evaluation of your financial health. Figure out how much money you have for a down payment or deposit on a rental. Down payments are typically 5 to 20 percent of the price of the home. Security deposits on rentals are usually about one month of rent and more if you have a pet. But be sure to keep enough in savings for an emergency fund. It’s a good idea to have three to six months of living expenses to cover unexpected costs.

2. How much debt do you have?
Consider all of your current and expected financial obligations like your car payment and insurance, credit card debt and student loans. Make sure you will be able to make all the payments in addition to the cost of your new home. Aim to keep total rent or mortgage payments plus utilities to fewer than 25 to 30 percent of your gross monthly income. Regulatory changes due to take effect next year will limit debt to income on most loans to 43 percent.

3. What is your credit score?
A high credit score indicates strong creditworthiness. Both renters and homebuyers can expect to have their credit history examined. A low credit score can keep you from qualifying for the rental you want or a low interest rate on your mortgage loan. If your credit score is low, you may want to delay moving into a new home and take steps to raise your score. For tips on improving your credit score, visit

4. Have you factored in all the costs?
Create a hypothetical budget for your new home. Find the average cost of utilities in your area, factor in gas, electricity, water and cable. Find out if you will have to pay for parking or trash pickup. Consider the cost of yard maintenance and other basic maintenance costs like replacing the air filter every three months. If you are planning to buy a home factor in real estate taxes, mortgage insurance and possibly a home owner association fee. Renters should consider the cost of rental insurance.

5. How long will you stay?
Generally, the longer you plan to live someplace, the more it makes sense to buy. Over time, you can build equity in your home. On the other hand, renters have greater flexibility to move and fewer maintenance costs. Carefully consider your current life and work situation and think about how long you want to stay in your new home.​


Security Tip of the Month: Keeping Your Information Safe Online

The Internet can be a powerful tool to connect with family and friends, run a small business, and save time. However, you should take precautions whenever you use the Internet to transmit personal or financial information. Hackers are always on the lookout for easily stolen information they can use to clean out your bank account (or open a new account in your name). Here are a few tips to keep in mind whenever you're online.

Avoid using public networks
As appealing as doing banking online while enjoying a latte in your favorite coffee shop might be, stick to visiting websites that don't require personal or financial information when you're on an unsecured or shared Wi-Fi network. Even logging into a social media site can expose private information to a hacker who is watching you over that unsecured connection.

If you are using a private network, be sure you're using a secure browser before entering personal or financial information. Look for the "https" at the beginning of the web address, and watch for the padlock icon in the corner of the browser, which signals that the website is encrypted.

Beware of phishing scams

The dangerous aspect about phishing scams is they don't rely on weak website or network security. Instead, they attempt to crack the human firewall - you. Phishing scams attempt to obtain personal information or plant a virus or malware on your device, by sending a fake email that requests that information or instructing the recipient to click a link in order to reset their account.

Never give out your personal information over the Internet, phone, or via text message, unless you know exactly who you are dealing with. If you receive a suspicious email from a business or charity and you're not sure if it's legitimate, close the email, open a new browser, visit their official website, and contact them through their customer service. There is often an increase in phishing scam attempts after heavily publicized security breaches (pretending to offer account security) or natural disasters (fake charities), so be especially on guard in those situations.

Be careful what you throw away

Dumpster diving doesn't just apply to paper statements and discarded credit cards anymore. Before you recycle or donate old cell phones or computers, be sure to remove any personal and financial information. For computers, the best way to do this is to use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive. For mobile devices, check the owner's manual, service provider website, or device manufacturer's website for information on how to permanently delete information. In addition, remove the SIM card from the device.

Most importantly, monitor your accounts for strange or unauthorized activity. If you notice something out of place, such as a purchase you didn't make or a transfer you never authorized, contact your financial institution immediately to mitigate the damage caused and prevent further misuse of your information.


5 Ways to Improve Your Financial Knowledge

Tax season can be a painful reminder of how adequately (or inadequately) you tracked and budgeted your lifestyle the previous year. Knowing how to set up budgets, goals, and financial processes isn't only handy for filing taxes -- it's a lifelong skill you'll need year after year to remain financially strong.

You don't have to be a certified financial planner to understand the basics of personal finance. In fact, there are a multitude of free resources available to help you expand your financial know-how. In celebration of National Financial Literacy month, here are a few ideas:

1. Visit your public library.
Your local library is a hub of all kinds of information, including educational personal finance workshops. Public libraries across the country have stepped it up when it comes to educating their local communities, from the Affordable Care Act to helping people balance a checkbook.

2. Find a powerful expert voice.
Some of the most famous personal finance experts have achieved success only after experiencing a financial low. They're real people who have been there and done that, and have written extensively about the knowledge they gained the hard way. Their struggles are manifested in insightful personal finance books about the best practices for managing money and planning for your future.

One example is Dave Ramsey, who coined the "7 Baby Steps" for getting out of debt in his book "The Total Money Makeover." These types of books offer a detailed look at financial remedies when challenges start to mount. Similarly, planning ahead is equally important. Robert Kiyosaki, author of the "Rich Dad Poor Dad" series, shares how generating income through assets, such as real estate and rental properties, can help you achieve wealth in the future.

3. Take a college course.
The word "college" might make you cringe by stirring up dollar signs in your mind. But not all college courses come at a price. For example, the University of California-Irvine's Distance Learning Center provides the personal finance foundation you need to excel through an online learning platform. The free course, "Fundamentals of Personal Financial Planning," was developed by the learning center with the help of a grant from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. The course includes 22 lessons ranging from goal-setting to estate planning.

4. Stalk personal finance websites.
More and more websites, on-air personalities and even the personal finance experts noted above, have adapted social media into their outreach strategy. Follow or like your favorite finance gurus to get fresh tips on how to manage your money now and in the future. Financial tips, advice, and frequently asked questions are also shared weekly on Coulee Bank’s social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn.

Also, following the finance pages of news outlets on Facebook and Twitter can help you stay on top of current events and how they affect your wallet. By staying aware of financial news stories, you can apply this knowledge to your everyday life.

5. Get immersed in a TED talk.
TED talks began as a discussion on innovation within the technology and science fields, but have since grown in scope to include topics ranging from music to money. While attending a TED conference can be financially daunting (at $4,000 or more per attendee), hungry personal finance disciples can find thought-provoking finance lectures on

This knowledge hub goes beyond humdrum personal finance topics by offering a fresh perspective on conventional advice. The concepts shared at TED talks might best serve someone who's well attuned to the basics of personal finance, but could be equally engaging for someone who's just starting with financial planning.

Whether you incorporate all of these resources into your personal finance repertoire or just one, you'll be closer to achieving tangible financial success by improving your financial literacy.


Business Article: Why Business Loans Get Rejected

Several recent news reports suggest businesses are finding it easier to get bank loans or other forms of financing. That would be good news for the economy, because access to capital, especially access by privately held companies, is a component of job and economic growth.

Despite the attention stock market performance receives, researchers at the Pepperdine University have noted “the relationship between public stock returns and real economic activity has been shown to be weak, at best.” Instead, they say, “GDP growth in highly developed economies is significantly driven by the private sector and by entrepreneurial activity in particular.”

Many privately held businesses are looking to grow in 2014, but whether they do will be heavily influenced by their ability to finance that growth – either through earnings or outside sources. “Nearly 89% of business owners report having the enthusiasm to execute growth strategies, yet just 46% report having the necessary financial resources to successfully execute growth strategies,” wrote Craig Everett, director of the Pepperdine Private Capital Markets Project and Assistant Professor of Finance, in the university’s 2014 Capital Markets Report.

More recently, the university’s survey of business owners shows that among the smallest businesses (those with less than $5 million in revenue) that sought a bank loan in the previous three months, 39% were successful, compared with 34% in a fall survey. Even so, it remains harder for smaller businesses to get bank loans than it does for larger firms, Everett said in an interview Friday.

A lot of times, business owners may get turned down and not know exactly why. Mark Swanson, president of new markets and community affairs at Northside Bank in Adairsville, Georgia, has heard this often from business owners who have been turned down by other banks. “What I often hear from folks is, ‘Everybody’s told me no, but nobody’s ever told me why not,’” says Swanson.

Pepperdine’s research found the top reason banks rejected a business loan application was the quality of the applicant’s earnings or cash flow. Insufficient collateral and debt load were the next most common reasons, according to the banks surveyed.

“Quality of earnings” can mean different things to different lenders. But generally, having high-quality earnings means a company’s financial statements show stable, persistent, and predictable earnings that are related to the core business. Similarly, the quality of a company’s cash flow refers to whether the cash generated by the business is largely driven by nonrecurring sources of cash or by something unusual, such as slowing payments to vendors. “If earnings were higher this year but it’s because you had a big profit from a real estate deal and you’re a dry cleaner, that doesn’t count,” Everett said.

Smaller businesses often run into problems because their sales are generated by a small number of customers, or their earnings look weak. “A lot of small businesses, to be frank, really don’t manage their businesses in order to maximize earnings because they’re trying to minimize taxes, so they’ll have a lot of expenses,” Everett said. “But of course, that hurts them when they go to sell the business or get a loan.”

While banks don’t always require collateral, they nearly always do for smaller businesses. The Pepperdine 2014 survey found that banks required collateral 100% of the time for loans of $1 million, but that percentage dropped to 63% for loans of $100 million. Similarly, personal guarantees are typically required for loans below $5 million, based on the survey.

If a business doesn’t have much in the way of equipment, buildings, inventory, or accounts receivable, the lender will have fewer options for repayment of the loan, making the deal unattractive. Of course, some businesses get into trouble borrowing money when they don’t really need it. Companies need to be cautious in seeking financing, according to Brian Hamilton, chairman of Sageworks, a financial information company.

In fact, a third of the nearly 1,000 business owners surveyed in Pepperdine’s 2014 Capital Markets Report said they have no outside financing. And while 37% didn’t try to raise capital in the last 12 months, those who did found the most success tapping personal and business credit cards, friends and family, trade credit, or equipment leasing (reporting 81% to 94% success rates for those financing categories).


Coulee Investment Center: Teach Your Children to Save for College

Shari-with-title.pngBeing part of the college planning process can be very educational for children, as it presents them with valuable financial lessons for the future. Children can earn money, learn about sources of financial aid, research potential colleges, and take other steps that may relieve their parents of some of the responsibility of college planning.

Get an Early Start

Most children don't make plans for their higher education until they are well into high school, but the foundation for saving and planning for college can take place much earlier. Many financial experts believe the best time to introduce children to college planning is when they are in the sixth, seventh, or eighth grade. During this time, you may want to initiate discussions about college and explain the importance of developing good study habits and getting involved in extracurricular activities -- to instill the idea that your family supports higher education.

You may also want to encourage your children to begin thinking about the career they would like to pursue, which is likely to influence their choice of college, as well as to establish a savings account that could be earmarked for education expenses. In addition, you can teach basic lessons about compounding, investing, and other money management issues.

Take It to a Higher Gear in High School

By the time they reach high school, many students are mature enough to plan for college at a deeper level, including the following:

  • Learning about college costs: Students may gain a deeper appreciation of their family's financial sacrifices when they realize how expensive college is. They can learn about college costs from a number of sources, including the College Board and the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Researching scholarships: There are numerous websites with information about sources of financial aid. For example, Fastweb and FinAid contain search engines with data about thousands of scholarships with varying eligibility criteria. In addition, the Federal Student Aid site provides an overview of federal student aid programs. Local libraries and high school guidance offices may also have information about state-sponsored aid programs and scholarships sponsored by local organizations.
  • Earning money: High school students can set aside a portion of their wages from part-time or summer jobs for higher education expenses. Also, students may be able to obtain jobs that build on career interests as a way of solidifying their future plans.
  • Getting organized: College planning encompasses numerous details, including visiting institutions that a student may want to attend, applying for financial aid, obtaining transcripts and letters of recommendation, and meeting deadlines. A high school student can take responsibility for making sure that important matters are tended to ahead of time. For example, if a student has a school vacation coming up, he or she could help organize a family trip to visit colleges of interest or spend some time completing college applications.

You and your prospective student may be able to think of more ideas that could add value to your family's efforts to save for a college education. Getting your budding scholar involved in the process -- financially and otherwise -- could ultimately be a pivotal lesson in responsibility that impacts his or her later success in life.

If you have questions or would like to speak with me about saving for college, please call me at 608-784-3904. You may also stop into the Coulee Investment Center, located inside Coulee Bank at 1516 Losey Boulevard S., La Crosse, WI 54601.

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